The back yard gardening movement has been taking off over the past few years, with more people realizing how good it can be to grow some of your own food. But what about doing it organically? And what about growing enough food to try to make a living from doing it? Where do you get started? All good questions, and some very good answers are now available in the form of a book written by three Saanich Peninsula farmers. Saanich Organics is the joining together of three women who run farms in Saanich, along with some input from other organic or transitional organic farms in the greater Victoria area. But now, Robin Tunnicliffe of Feisty Field Organic Farm, Rachel Fisher of Three Oaks Farm, and Heather Stretch of Northbrook Farm, the heart and soul of Saanich Organics, have just published a book called ‘All The Dirt, Reflections on Organic Farming’.
The book really gives you an idea of what you might be getting into if you are considering creating an organic farming business. They have had hundreds of people ask them over the years about what it’s like to be an organic farmer, how they run their business, and as Robin Tunnicliffe explains, the book can provide all the answers to all those questions:
”It’s the book we needed when we started out. Nothing like this existed when we started out and what you need when you start a new career is a real slice of life, especially a career like organic farming that’s getting redefined. It’s a whole career and whole lifestyle, a whole philosophy and what are things going to look like for you in ten years, so in the book that’s what we really tried to do.”
The really great thing about this book is that although it is a how-to book, it is told through the personal stories of the three authors, so you never feel bogged down in technical talk, it’s just as though you did sit them down and ask them all the questions you could probably think of regarding their business, and all the ones you didn’t think of as well. It also takes you through their structure, the way they have diversified. They sell their products to residents through the weekly box delivery program, but also at farmers markets, to restaurants and to retailers, and they also spread their income out from over a hundred different crops, so that if a few fail because of pests or weather, there are always some backups in place.
Their success comes as a combination of things, definitely teamwork, hard work, and developing a sense of community. But it also has to do with growing their business in a part of the world where people are becoming much more concerned about where their food comes from and how it is produced. Heather Stretch says that even given that awareness, not everyone has caught on to the idea that this is the way we should be eating:
“We still import the majority of the food we eat here on Vancouver Island. We need more farmers like us, and we need more people to think about eating more than just the fancy heirloom tomato that gets sliced on top of their industrially-produced, imported greens.”
Well, we do need more farmers, we need our municipal and provincial governments to be more farmer-friendly when it comes to loans, grants, incentives and infrastructure . If you want to pick up a copy of the book, which actually makes a good read even if you don’t want to be an organic farmer, you have an opportunity next Tuesday, February 28th at Cadboro Bay Books. Join Heather, Robin, and Rachel along with Saanich MLA Lana Popham, and long-time Sooke farmer Mary Alice Johnson for an evening discussion on local organic farming and to learn more about the growers in your neighbourhood. More details at the Saanich Organics website.